By Bob “hot rod” Rohr
As heating and cooling specialists, you and I share a similar goal with our customers. We all wish for a comfortable home or workplace. It falls on our shoulders as designers and installers to meet that goal. In many cold climate areas, an efficient, properly-sized heating and cooling system will meet the needs of the building owners.
As an industry, we have arrived at a point where this is very easily accomplished. We have available to us a huge assortment of heat sources: heat pumps, boilers – both modulating and condensing or traditional non-condensing. We have perhaps hundreds of brands and models of heat sources to choose from. The same goes for heat emitters. Everything from radiant panels, fin tube baseboards, panel radiators and air handlers are available. These options exist for all hydronic system applications.
We also have the same availability in forced air/ducted systems. High-efficiency furnaces are proven and dependable. Air to air heat pumps have a proven track record, also. Electric resistance heaters, baseboards and wall heaters are simple and effective. High velocity, small duct systems are available both for new and retrofit applications. Both hydronic and forced air ducted systems can be zoned for even more comfort adjustability.
So, there is no reason every building cannot be heated and cooled to the owners’ needs and wants.
However, never bypass the critical first step, which is an accurate load calculation for the project. Don’t be tempted to fire the new product cannon at a project with hopes of a successful system. Do the math or ask for help from the suppliers, reps or manufacturers.
It’s important to spend the time to learn more about providing “comfort” systems to your customers. Go beyond just the heating and cooling mindset. There is excellent information worth reading in the Mechanical Business digital archive (mechanicalbusiness.com) on the challenges of and options for air quality, comfort, and heating and cooling systems. Mechanical Business curates the best in industry information in its features and columns, so be sure to check out every page. Also, enroll in a class or online webinars to learn more about options for designing a healthy home and workspace.
Building system upgrades
I believe there will continue to be a market for building system upgrades as energy prices climb. The same steps apply for sizing and product selection. The replacement and upgrade market seems to stay strong even in down economies, the motivation being to lower the cost to condition our buildings. Always check for government or utility incentive programs for energy upgrade funds.
Interest in cooling heating up
More and more, we are seeing the need and desire for cooling, even in traditionally cooler northern climates. Perhaps only a week or two of AC is needed, however people seem to be more educated about systems, and they want summer comfort in their homes and workspaces. In this area, we have many of the same options for products and installation. Typical forced air ducted systems are probably the most common installation, and these are able to cover both heating and cooling loads. Higher efficiency systems are possible with geothermal heat pumps, air to water and air to air heat pumps.
The industry has seen an influx of mini split systems. These easily retrofittable products allow for both heating and cooling options. They can be a nice upgrade to a building with radiant heat, but without ducting in place. These split systems are available with multiple heads to cover rooms that have different load profiles.
More recently we see hydronic cooling being an option. This is basically chilled water circulating through ceiling panels, or possibly some floor radiant loops. Note that some air movement for dehumidification may still be needed with radiant panel cooling. We often see these systems in commercial buildings.
So, do we celebrate mission accomplished? Not so fast. We can adequately and efficiently heat and cool almost any structure. However, there is more to creating a healthy, safe and comfortable system.
Keeping our indoor environments healthy
One critical component often overlooked or ignored is indoor air quality (IAQ). The COVID years have made this more of a concern as we spent extended periods in our homes. In some cases, the entire family was confined to home spaces during these periods. We became aware that the air inside some of these homes suffered from these lockdowns. A building needs some fresh air exchange to keep the spaces from becoming stagnant and unhealthy. In addition, some filtration is desirable. This became especially noticeable if you were confined with your pets.
More attention should be given to keeping our homes and buildings healthy, as well as warm and comfortable. Canada has standards that apply to air changes per hour (ACH), which are required to keep fresh air in our public buildings. The good news here is there are many products on the market to help meet air quality needs and requirements. We have products that can add or remove humidity. We have a variety of air filtration products from basic filters to electrostatic or ultraviolet.
Energy recovery units exchange some of the exhausted outgoing air with fresh air being brought into the home, to temper that cold outside air. Sizing and balancing this selection of products is important. We don’t want to trade a warm comfortable home space for a drafty space with improper fresh air intake. Leaving a window partially open, for example, may cover the ACH, but make the occupants uncomfortable as a result.